Friday, May 1, 2009

Flip Disc. ($0.99, version 1.02)

iTunes Link.

I got this game on 4/17, and found that the controls made the game unplayable for me. The controls were updated and I still found the game unplayable. The controls were updated one more time, and I was finally able to enjoy this game. And enjoy I do. I have been in communication with the developer this whole time and it speaks volumes about a developer when they keep tweaking the controls so that the game is accessible to even more people. I found control scheme number one to be perfect for me.

The gameplay consists of matching five balls of the same color. You have five concentric rings of varying sizes. You have eight holes on top of the outer ring, and different-colored balls come out of those holes. Only one ball comes out at a time, but as you progress through levels, they will start to come out faster and faster. You also start getting more ball colors as the levels increase. You have to make 10 matches in order to go up a level, and after 10 levels/100 matches, you get an achievement for "finishing" the game. I tap out at around 20 matches, so 100 matches is quite a challenge and adds lots of replayability to the game. It would be great to have an achievement system, which could include achievements such as 100 total matches or three hours played. Since I started seeing games that keep track of how long you've played them I've really grown to like that feature and would love to see it added to all games. Each time you make a match, you get 10 points added to your score.

There are a few power-ups to help you out. There's power-ups to boost your score, to temporarily stop the production of new balls, to destroy all the balls lying in the same disc, to block for a few seconds the disc where the power-up was lying (I would suppose this would make it harder, not easier, but I have not encountered this power-up during gameplay yet), and a black ball that cannot be used to form lines but disappears after a certain period of time.

When you first start up the game, you get to a menu of options. You can start a new game, change options around, see the credits, view the instructions, view the high scores, resume a game (if you have one going), and an option that I haven't seen in any other game - Exit, which does the same as pressing the Home button on the iDevice. Options include sliders for music and sound effects and the option to choose the control mode. There are four control modes. The first one (and my favorite) allows you to just tap on a ring to select it and then draw arcs with your finger to rotate it. The second one gives you buttons on the screen for rotation and disc selection (this was the default control scheme when the app first came out and my least favorite). The third one is kind of the opposite of number one: rotate the inner disc left or right to go through the disc selection and move your finger up and down through the rings to rotate the current ring. The final one has you tapping in the center to go down the discs and at the edge to go up the discs and draw arcs with your finger to rotate. There's a control scheme to please just about anybody now, and the developer is again to be commended for adapting rather quickly to customers' requests.

The instructions are very detailed and include pictures. The game screen gives you the current level, number of lines cleared (a match of five balls is considered one line), your score, the next ball coming, a Danger sign that flashes and makes noise if you are running out of room, and a pause button that allows you to either return to the main menu (and save your game) or continue. You can also save your current game by pressing the Home button. There's also a bar to the right that shows you how close you are to running out of room. You can tap on the upcoming ball to have the next ball come out without having to wait.

The sound is upbeat. There's beeping noises when selecting menu items, scraping noises when you rotate discs, and sucking noises when you make a match and the balls are sucked into the center.

I really like how the game handles losing the game. It will keep shooting out balls until every single spot is filled. Not just when one hole gets plugged up: ALL holes have to be plugged up in order for the game to end. This allows you to frantically clear some lines and get some more gameplay out of it. There are still two more tweaks that I would like to see in the game, and a wishlist item. I've gotten up to 20 lines or so and I've only seen a couple of bombs per game. I have not seen the other power-ups yet. It would be great if the help information included what triggers a power-up to appear - chance, score, a certain number of lines? But what I would really like to see is a greater frequency and variety of power-ups.

Developer reply regarding power-ups:

Regarding the special gems: they appear by chance and based on the current level. For example, the black and blocker gems only appear during the last levels. The game is also programmed in such a way that there cannot be more than 4 special gems on the board. The reason behind that decision is that only one special gem can be used to form a line and, during testing, I found out that if I didn't limit the number of simultaneous special gems the player could suddenly found she would be unable to form a line.

The other tweak I would love to see is to have the game start even slower. I can manage the speed, but it would be a more enjoyable experience at least for me if the speed is lowered a couple of notches more.

The other thing is not essential to the gameplay but I'd love to have the option to slide my finger up and down lines and have the balls move up or down that line, so that you could not only send balls left or right, but up or down as well. Yes this would make the game a whole lot easier. There could be an option to turn vertical swapping on or of. That way those who want more of a challenge can leave it off and those who are looking for a more casual game can turn it on.

There is one more change that I would like to see that does not involve the gameplay, and that involves the mechanism to put your name in the high scores. I believe it's a combination of swiping left and right to go through the spots and up and down to go through the alphabet, but I was only able to get an A on the final spot out of it in the three times I tried it. A pop-up keyboard would be a lot better, or at least have it looked at to see what could be going on.

While reviewing the game I found a bug. If you press Home while the Game Over! screen is up (I did this to go back to the menu quickly to work on the review), it got stuck in the Game Over! screen. I restarted the app but it remained stuck on that screen and would not go back to the main menu. Even after resetting my iDevice, it would not go back to the main menu. I had to wait until I got home to delete the game and re-download it. I'm more than confident that this will be addressed (and will update the review if it does).

Graphics are polished, music is enjoyable, gameplay is solid, and the game is constantly being updated. lf those are not the signs of a keeper, I don't know what is.

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